Smotrich sparks fury comparing UK community leaders to pre-Shoah German Jews

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Smotrich sparks fury comparing UK community leaders to pre-Shoah German Jews

Far-right Israeli MK reported to have said British communal bodies are 'behaving more like the non-Jews', while article emerges by Mizrachi's head quoting the politician in 2019

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Bezalel Smotrich filmed himself in a car travelling 'between meetings' in North London on Wednesday night (Photo: Facebook)
Bezalel Smotrich filmed himself in a car travelling 'between meetings' in North London on Wednesday night (Photo: Facebook)

Far-right Israeli Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich has sparked renewed anger after attempting to compare UK communal leaders with those of German Jewish leaders in pre-Nazi Germany.

Seizing on the publication of the latest antisemitism incidents report by the Community Security Trust, which showed record high figures over the past year, Smotrich reportedly accused the communal leaders here of behaving “more like the non-Jews” in their response to Jew-hate.

Board of Deputies chief executive Michael Wegier – who had given a high-profile interview aired in Israel outlining widespread opposition to Smotrich’s anti-Arab, anti-LGBT and anti-Reform Judaism views – said his latest comments “do not merit a response.”

In comments reported by the Jerusalem Post, Smotrich said after he had left the UK on Thursday :“It is ridiculous to bring up antisemitism on a day when a report is published on the massive rise of antisemitism in Britain, long before I arrived.

“Those who say the way to deal with antisemitism is to hide who and what we are repeat the awful strategy of German Jewry ahead of World War II, who thought if there is antisemitism, let’s be more like the non-Jews and they will forgive and accept us.

Michael Wegier speaking at a Jewish News event in Tel Aviv in 2018

“The opposite is true. The response to antisemitism must be a strong and secure Israel that can justify the Zionist vision…”

Smotrich also hit out again at the Board of Deputies after the communal organisation had tweeted their disgust over his visit to the UK.

“Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace forever,” the Board had tweeted on Wednesday.

The communal orgainsation’s tweet added the MK’s views “provokes hatred” and called on British Jews to “show him the door”.

But Smotrich claimed on Thursday:”Countless people told me they were embarrassed by their [Board] tweet and that it doesn’t speak for them,” he said.

“People told me they drove for hours just to shake my hand. There are so many people who want me to speak now, I could stay for a week.”

Smotrich had flown to the UK, and later to France too garner support from Orthodox Jewish leaders who are worried about the conversion reforms planned by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.

Arriving in the UK on Wednesday, Smotrich had been pictured at a meeting with Mizrachi UK chief executive Rabbi Andrew Shaw – and two shlichim (emissaries) from the Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva UK.

Both Mizrachi UK and Bnei Akiva UK released statements attempting to distance their organisations from the meeting.

But Jewish News can reveal Rabbi Shaw has previously defended Smotrich in an article written on the Mizrachi UK website.

Rabbi Shaw extensively quoting Smotrich

In an article published on the UK charity’s website in June 2019, Rabbi Shaw noted how “Bezalel Smotrich, a religious Zionist MK, said that he would want a world in which Israel is governed in accordance with Torah law. ”

Shaw said the comments “generated significant opposition” – including a tweet from the then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wrote: ‘The State of Israel will not be a halachic state’.

Despite the widespread anger and criticism of Smotrich’s call for Torah-law to be introduced in Israel Rabbi Shaw wrote that the far-right MK’s views coincided with those “dreamed of” by the founder of Mizrachi, Rabbi Yitzchak Reines in 1902.

Shaw then added: “Mizrachi UK believes that the Torah should be at the centre of Zionism and also sees Jewish nationalism as a tool for achieving religious objectives.”

In a statement released late on Thursday afternoon, Mizrachi UK said it had been “invited to a meeting with Bezalel Smotrich. We saw the meeting as an opportunity to share details of our work with a Religious Zionist Member of Knesset and former government minister.

“We want to make it clear that the meeting should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any of Mr Smotrich’s previous statements. As a religious Zionist organisation, we reject prejudice of any kind.”

Opposition to Smotrich’s visit to the UK was widely reported in Israel.

Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir said the Board of Deputies was “infected by leftists and Reform.”

Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz tweeted he had heard Smotrich complain that “progressives” have taken over the Jewish community in the UK.

“No Bezalel, it is your party’s racism and Kahanism that are disgusting the Jewish community in the UK, which have always pushed for tolerance, equality and justice,” wrote Horowitz.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he “warned that if we let racist MKs enter Israeli politics, this will harm us abroad, especially with world Jewry.”

Lapid added  that “unfortunately, we see this happening in front of our very eyes.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai tweeted, “Smotrich has nothing to do in the UK. The community there has already given its opinion. Racism has no place anywhere. Go home.”

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